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Madison County, Ala., Schools Block Wi-Fi on Students' Personal Devices

To curb distractions during class, a school district in North Alabama will no longer allow non-school-issued student devices to connect to its network, exempting students with certain medical conditions.

Madison County Schools
Madison County Schools recently announced students will not be able to access district wifi networks on their personal electronic devices.
John R. Roby/TNS
(TNS) — A North Alabama school district is prohibiting students from using their personal electronic devices on school networks, pointing to concerns over class disruptions, speed and online safety.

Students at Madison County Schools will no longer be allowed to connect personal devices to district wifi networks in the new school year, the district recently announced.

The step is intended to “bolster the learning environment at MCSS by safeguarding our networks, reserving our limited bandwidth for educational purposes, and curbing distractions during instructional time,” according to a district news release.

Madison County Schools will exempt students with certain medical conditions from the ban. Specific conditions and how parents may exempt their children remain to be decided, spokesman Carter Watkins said.

“We will be defining those questions in particular during upcoming meetings among district leaders,” he said. “Once we have the information, we will share it with parents.”

Staff will still have access, and buildings also have landlines in case of emergency situations.

The move comes amid a growing tussle nationwide between highly connected students and school districts wary of the network strain and lost instructional time personal electronic devices can cause. California has allowed school districts to prohibit the use of cellphones during classtime since 2019. The Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second-largest — announced last month a complete cellphone ban will begin in January.

And a recent Pew Research Center report found 72 percent of teachers say cellphones are distractions in their classes.

The Madison County district’s move goes a step further than some other North Alabama school districts, many of which have policies restricting but not banning the use of personal devices. Both Madison City Schools and Limestone County School District prohibit accessing outside networks through personal or district-owned devices, including by using phones, tablets or laptops as mobile hotspots or setting up a VPN.

The Madison City Schools district requires personal devices to connect to a building’s guest wifi network, while all school-issued devices connect to the main network, Superintendent Ed Nichols said in an email, further noting, “both networks are secured, filtered, and monitored.” Nichols said there are no plans to restrict student or staff personal devices from district networks.

Huntsville City Schools’ student policy manual does not directly address hotspots or personal electronic devices. A spokesperson said the district does not provide access to wifi networks for student personal devices because all students are provided laptops.

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